You've probably received something that calls itself a "universal remote" with your latest TV or DVD purchase, but can that remote really be called universal? In my experience it is quite painful to look up or try out the different codes to control your other devices, and in the end it never quite seems to cover all the functionality. On top of that, if you are using several devices at once (i.e. your cable box, TV and receiver) you still have to switch between control modes in order to use all of the devices.
This is were the more expensive Universal Remotes come in, amongst them the Harmony 880. I've been very reluctant to spending $200 dollars for a remote, but this deal for $99 over the holidays was very tempting, so I just had to order it. Actually I first ordered the Harmony 670, but canceled that order when I found out that the 880 was going to be on sale shortly thereafter.
In order to program this remote and connect it with all of your devices, you will need to connect it to your PC via an included USB cable and then use the included software. While I do see a privacy issue with Logitech knowing which products you own and storing this information on their website, the advantage is that they can manage the information about all supported remotes centrally and also backup your settings in case you have to reinstall the software or switch computers. At this point I should probably also mention that if your device is not in the Logitech database, the system will also allow you to program the universal remote based on an existing remote you might have. You simple point your old remote at the sensor of the universal remote and activate the commands as their software tells you to.
The remote comes with a charger base station, so you don't have to worry about buying batteries. The charger base has a constant blue light on it - probably just for effect, but I'd have it rather not use additional power. The remote itself has a motion sensor, so the clear screen will light up automatically when you pick it up.
The main advantage of a Universal Remote like this is that it contains action settings, like "Watch TV" or "Watch a DVD". Which works great. For example "Watch a DVD" will turn on your TV, DVD player and audio receiver. It will know to use the audio controls of the receiver and stop/play/etc. controls of your DVD player. It also will set the TV to the correct input type. Plus, even if you later own manually switch between devices etc., the "off" switch of the remote will turn off devices that you have turned on while using the remote. This also means though that you should not turn devices on/off or switch inputs without using the remote, since the remote will then assume the wrong starting point when you try using it. Basically the remote keeps track of all the device settings, in order to know what is required to change settings. This is very useful for example if you have a single "toggle" switch on your TV that "rotates" through a number of input sources.
I think the biggest challenge in creating this system is to make the programming of the remote as easy as possible, and Logitech partially succeeded. Setting up most of your basic functionality is really straight forward and easy (at least for someone as technically inclined as myself), but try to create custom functionality (i.e. a setting for listening to cable radio) and things get a little more complicated. I have yet to figure out how to tell the remote that after it turns on the receiver and cable box, the channel is to be controlled with the cable box and the volume is to be controlled with the receiver.
All in all a great and useful product, especially so your wife (love you, btw) doesn't call you and asks you which devices to turn on when she wants to watch a DVD ;-)
Update On Feb 15, 2008: I am so glad we added this update area to the reviews, since I forgot something really important that I've been meaning to add to this review.
There is something I don't like about the remote and that I have trouble getting used to even after having it for several months: The arrangement of the keys is somehow counter-intuitive for me. For example, when I try to blind type a channel number, I will frequently manage to hit the wrong key. Also I sometimes end up pressing the record button when I am trying to use the cable box menu.